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tv   Great Decisions in Foreign Policy  PBS  February 18, 2011 9:00pm-9:30pm PST

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[instrumental music] >> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. great decisions is produced in association with the university of delaware. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by price waterhouse coopers, llp, the aarp office of international affairs, and the european commission. coming up next, "should americans care coming up next, "should americans care about the caucasus?" [instrumental music] >> welcome to great decisions, where americans make tough choices on u.s. foreign policy. i'm ralph begleiter. this week we ask, "should americans care about the caucasus?" to help us answer this question, we'll be joined by great decisions participants in philadelphia, and our experts: david kramer, a senior fellow at the german marshall fund, and charles king, a professor of international rations at georgetown university. thanks for joining us on this program. let's get started.
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david, you've told us that you think americans should care more about the caucasus. why do you think that? >> i think for several reasons, one is the neighborhood in which they're located. they border russia, they border iran, they're close to turkey and they're in a tough neighborhood. so, for that reason alone, i think they're important countries. they're important in the case of economics and energy. azerbaijan holds a lot of energy reserves, that's very important and an important pipeline runs through the region. they're important for security reasons in dealing with counter-terrorism and also confronting problems both in their own territory, but also in russia's north caucasus. they're important for democracy and human rights issues. georgia has made progress in that area, azerbaijan and armenia have not, and we want to see those countries, ah, improve. and lastly, they're important because there are some ethnic populations in the united states that care very deeply about them. in particular, in the case of armenia, with a very large and influential armenian-american community here in the united states. >> and charles, you've indicated that you don't think americans should be quite so concerned about the caucasus. why? >> well, certainly the caucasus is an important part of the, part of the world
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foall the reasons that, that david mentioned. but over time, i think, over the last 20 years in particular, the united states has come to see its relationship with the countries of the south caucasus, azerbaijan and georgia and armenia, in zero-sum terms when it comes to its relationship with russia. ah, the caucasus has become a kind of region of a new great game in which anytime, ah, russia sees its interest being threatened there, the united states sees that as being something that may well be in the interest of georgia or armenia, azerbaijan. when the united states, ah, sees its interest in the region being threatened, it immediately turns to russia as, as the culprit. and the countries in the region have a real incentive to see their neighbor to the north, russia, as being the big bear in the neighborhood that, that threatens their interests. >> both of you have mentioned russia as key factors here. i think a lot of americans are thinking to themselves: wait a minute, you know, russia's essentially not a player these days. why should, why should we be concerned? a lot of americans aren't even concerned about russia, much less its neighborhood.
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ah, why do we need to be more concerned about, uh, continuing to be concerned about russia? >> well i think, let's remember, back in august of 2008, russia invaded one of these countries, georgia. and, the russian-georgian war, though only five days, was a consequential development. it was the first time russia used forces to invade a neighboring state since the breakup of the soviet union. that, i think, sent reverberations throughout the region. it scared a number of the countries, including azerbaijan, but also including armenia. um, and i think it's important because russia is capable of creating havoc in the region. we want to see russia play a constructive role in the region. we want to work together with russia in promoting stability, both in the south caucasus as well as in russia's own north caucasus. um, but at times russia is the source of the instability, not a problem solver. >> charles, isn't also the case, though that at the time of that invasion, ah, the united states intervened politically, diplomatically and some americans said, you know, "what are we meddling in that for?" >> well that's exactly right. i think a lot of people didn't
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really know what the majors issues were in places like south ossetia and abkhazia. places that, that even specialists on the region sometimes have a hard time, ah, finding, finding on the map. 2008 would have been very concerning to the united states and should've been very concerning had it been simply russia deciding one day to invade one of its neighbors. that really wasn't the case. there was certainly a military intervention there, but there had been russian peace keepers on the ground since the early 1990's. those peace keepers came under fire, russia intervened. um, initially, as a way of protecting those peace keepers and protecting the ethnic enclaves of south ossetia and abkhazia from georgia's attempt to take back those areas by military force. everyone agrees, ah, at least in the united states, that abkhazia and south ossetia, the, the ethnic enclaves in the north and the northwest of the country are part of, part of georgia, ah, but georgia had tried to take them back by military force and contravention of, of many agreements that had already been reached. >> wasn't there also some dispute over whether,
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who were the good guys? the people we thought were the good guys turned out to be not such good guys after all. >> well i think that's, that's right. there was a lot of hope in 2003 and 2004 when a new government came to power, ah, in georgia and there's no doubt that that government has changed many things in georgia for the better: anti-corruption efforts, economic development, and so on. on the other hand, ah, president saakashvili, the president of georgia, decided to attempt through military force to seize control of, of territory where there were, there were international peace keeper on the ground, and that's the thing that was a proximate cause for the war of 2008. >> during the cold-war, russia used to consider the caucasus region part of its backdoor, part of its neighborhood, and even after the end of the cold-war, the russians assert this as sort of their near abroad and the rest of the world should back off and let them handle things in the neighborhood. let's listen to what some of our, ah, listeners at the great decisions group in philadelphia have to say about that. >> i think americans should care about the caucasus, because it's like the middle east, it's another troubled region
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of the world. and, ah, as a super power, i think, ah, the u.s. should understand fully what the issues are and have a stake in it, because, ah, sometimes these troubles, ah, come back and bite us. >> georgia with their ideas of supporting western ideals is something we should encourage, i believe, because, to me, russia, even thought they claim to have a democracy, i feel like putin is, um, running his democracy like a dictatorship and i feel like that's a threat to western ideals of what true democracies are. so i feel as though we should be encouraging those, um, forms of true democracy in that area of the world. >> i think we should continue to have strong support for georgia. i think we just have to be careful. we don't want to jeopardize our overall relations with russia as well. i think that although we may have some differences with russia at times, i, i think they're clearly a major power that, that we need to have, have
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good working relationships with to help in other areas as well. >> there are organizations within that region that have links with al-qaeda, and there are organizations in that region that have links with other islamic extremist groups that threaten regimes in central asia. so one of the questions that we have is the extent to which we want to partner with those governments in order to stop those terrorist organizations from overthrowing those regimes or at least threatening those regimes. so america has an interest. it has interest in stability in the region, has interest in making sure those terrorist organizations don't get a deep root. both u.s. and russia are status quo powers. they're interested in making sure that islamic extremism doesn't take root in central asia. so this actually is an opportunity for the u.s. and russia to find some common interest and work together in battling that kind of threat in the region. >> i think if the russian economy continues to have problems, which i predict it will with, with the energy evolving the way it is, that the caucasus is the most likely place, ah, for them to begin to reassert their, their hegemony and maybe even make some claims that this is rightfully, rightfully theirs ala, you know, world war ii again. and, ah, i think for all the reasons that were pointed out,
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as far as the economic and security interest, um, we may be forced to take a stand, ah, if russia does decide to do that. maybe not by ourselves of course, but as, as part of the nato alliance. >> david, what do you make of the claim that russia makes, that this is their neighborhood and the united states ought to pretty much let them handle things there? >> the soviet union is over and russia needs to accept the fact that these countries, along with other parts of the former soviet union, are independent, sovereign states that have the right and ability to decide which organizations they want to belong to, to contribute to international efforts, to promote stability and peace in iraq and afghanistan, where georgia has stepped up to the plate with 2000 troops before in iraq and now close to 1000 in afghanistan. um, these are countries... >> assisting the u.s. >> assisting the u.s. but also the international presence that's there. um, and these are countries that are making their own decisions now and they want closer relations, in particular in the case of georgia, ah, closer relations with the west, and russia, i think, needs to respect that.
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>> charles, what do you think about respecting russia's claim to the authority in that region? >> well, david is certainly right that the cold-war is over, the soviet union is over, but i think it's often the case that in the united states, we have trouble, ah, realizing that fact, not just in moscow, but also here in the united stat. we find it perfectly easy to work with countries such as china when it comes to dealing with north korea. we work with non-democratic countries in the gulf when it comes to dealing with iran. we work with pakistan when it comes to dealing with afghanistan. we have to work together with russia to resolve the whole host of problems that eurasia faces today, and, and that means, i think, realizing that russia really does have a kind of special interest in its own neighborhood. >> i realize this is probably an imperfect analogy, but the united states would get pretty annoyed if russia showed up in, say, cuba or elsewhere in central ameca or even in northern south america and started, ah, being much more active in its foreign policy conduct there. ah, would the u.s. feel upset about that? should the u.s. say to russia, "okay, yeah, you're welcome
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in our region too?" >> well i think it's, it's certainly the case that the united states has, ah, has engaged with the countries in the south caucasus in ways that were the tables flipped, we would've found very odd in, in the russian case. but it's also the case that on the ground, people don't perceive russia as the kind of major threat that we sometimes perceive it to be in the united states. if you look at armenia, which recely signed a basing agreement with russia that allows russian troops to stay in the country until 2044. that's not, a country, a country that perceives russia as a major threat does not go through that kind of, that kind of negotiation and sign that kind of agreement. so things, i think, are much more complicated on the ground in terms of the russian regional relationship than we often perceive them to be here. >> what do you think about the, ah, the point that charles made about russia establishing a basing agreement with armenia, one of the countries in the caucasus? should that bother the u.s.? >> russia and armenia have had close relations for years. armenia has been very dependent on russia for providing for its security and stability.
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um, i think this is just the latest example where russia and armenia are deepening ties. charles is right. i mean, we too also need to get away from zero-sum thinking and viewing any russian improvement in its relations with any of its neighbors as coming against the expense of the united states. this is consistent with the history of russian-armenia relations. ah, russia's looking to improve relations with azerbaijan as well. having good relations with russia by these states is in u.s. interests. it's not in u.s. interests for georgia, armenia or azerbaijan to have tense relations with russia. >> right after the end of the cold-war, i had the opportunity to fly with the american secretary of state to all of the countries in the caucasus, in a bid at that time to, ah, establish quick and new and stronger relations between the united states and these countries that, of course, had been behind the iron curtain for a very, very long time. one of them was a stop in azerbaijan in baku, the capital of azerbaijan, which already then was an oil and gas producing, ah, supplier at the time
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and the u.s. saw that as an interest. let's turn to our, ah, viewers in, ah, philadelphia and see what they have to say about this issue of relations with a place like azerbaijan. >> azerbaijan is the source of the tbilisi, i'm sorry, the baku-tbilisi-ceyhan oil pipeline and, ah, as such, we need to, we need to be supportive of azerbaijan. energy security is a very real issue these days and, um, energy, unfortunately, is a zero-sum game. >> this is a very important area with its oil resources and the tempestuous climate that it seems to, ah, always present. so i'm hoping that, ah, america will understand the importance of this region, that i'll have a better case to make for it when i, ah, am asked. >> right now it is not a stable region, um, but it will continue to stabilize. i think the united states can be a huge part of that. and in doing so, it will strengthen our position on energy,
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which everybody mentions, um, but in also a lot of other areas, in human rights, in civil liberties and also in just, in settling a lot of disputes. >> we, we don't have the presence there that we do, say, in georgia or, um, or other former soviet states. i think the u.s. relationship with, with azerbaijan is much more tenuous than others in the region. >> oil in particular is a very fungible product. oil from azerbaijan is not that much different than oil from nigeria or oil from venezuela, and it's the total pool of oil. and even if the oil from azerbaijan is maybe feeding mostly into western europe, it's still important to us because if they don't have access to that oil, they're going to be looking to gain oil from sources that are primary sources to american energy needs. >> our crisis of confidence, you know, our political correctness in many ways, um, has, it reflects on the world,
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especially in new countries that look up to us. and this is not a criticism of the united states in terms of our, you know, what we do, human rights and so on. we have to articulate substantively, you know, what we stand for as a civilization and exercise with consistency. >> charles, it's been a long time since the secretary of state initiated the contacts with the countries and the caucasus and the relations have really developed quite slowly. should the u.s. be accelerating that and make a bigger point of trying to reach out to a country like azerbaijan because of its oil and other energy interests? >> well certainly azerbaijan is, is important globally for, for oil and gas reasons. ah, but i think it also provides a very important example of the way in which the united states sometimes tries to do two things at once and perhaps too many things at once. on the one hand, developing a strategic relationship with a strategically important country, over flight rights across azerbaijan are also very important to the united states in terms of getting to afghanistan and other places in central asia. on the other hand, the u.s. has pushed the democracy and human rights agenda in azerbaijan continually,
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reaching out to opposition groups, working on human rights monitoring and so on. the problem has been that we haven't been honest about the relationship with those two kinds of u.s. goals. when secretary clinton was last in azerbaijan, she said that the country was making "significant and steady progress" on human rights. any human rights campaigner in the country knows that that's, that's not, not true. i think what we need to do in a country like that is to align our strategic interests with the way in which we actually talk about democracy, human rights and the other values that are very important to us. >> you're saying go a little slower on-- don't be quite so eager to establish warm relations? >> i think, i think we can, we can certainly have warm relations with countries that aren't democracies. we have plenty of those around the world if they're in u.s. strategic interests. we have to figure out better ways, though, of talking about democracy and human rights throughout the caucasus, because when russia looks at our doing that, they see that as simply a mask for our strategic interests and it actually hurts the cause of democracy around the world. >> david, do you agree, disagree?
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>> i, i think the united states has to be careful of a pendulum approach to azerbaijan. we're on the one hand, we ignore it, as i think happened in the first year of the obama administration. there was a sense that, there was so much focus on armenia and turkey and reconciliation between those countries, that the u.s. was ignoring azerbaijan. president aliyev, the president of azerbaijan, was not invited to president obama's nuclear security summit in april of, of 2010. then you saw a visit by secretary of defense bob gates, and a visit by secretary of state hillary clinton, not just azerbaijan, but to the whole region. secretary gates delivered a letter from president obama. we seem to go from one extreme to another of ignoring azerbaijan and then smothering it and, and there needs to be a more moderate approach that i think does take into account the interests that charles identified, which is energy and, and economic security, but also democracy and human rights. the way i would describe it is, it's a three legged stool. we have interests in energy, we have interests in security,
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but we have equal interests in seeing azerbaijan develop in a more democratic fashion, respecting human rights, and i don't think we've seen that so far. >> considering that this region is already, as we mentioned in the beginning, a bit obscure to many americans, does going the pendulum approach also make it difficult for americans to see what u.s. interests are in the region? one minute it's energy, we need to become energy independent. another minute it's human rights or democracy, progress on democracy? david. >> well certainly, i think what got a lot of american's attention was events in august of 2008. suddenly georgia was no longer a state in the united states, it was country in the former soviet union and many americans finally knew where it was. um, armenia, i think, again, with, with the armenian-american community in the united states, there has been close identification with that country's aspirations. azerbaijan i think has been a little more confusing to a lot of americans. um, they identify it with energy, but they've also identified it with lots of corruption, lots of human rights problems.
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um, articles in western publications about the corruption problems, i think that's what americans have as their understanding of the region and that suggests that we have a lot more work to do. >> charles, a brief comment on that, the pendulum approach? >> i think we see in the region what we, what we want to see. when during the last presidential campaign, ah, john mccain said, "we're all georgians now", ah, after the 2008 war. well, of course, most americans didn't think of themselves as georgians in any real sense. they were having trouble figuring out exactly what the issues, ah, were, and quite, quite rightly so, because they were very complicated issues. ah, but i think, um, we, we have to get away from seeing the region only in terms of what we would like it to become and take serious the aspirations, the goals, ah, the views of russia, of the people who actually live there. >> we've all talked a lot about russia, but these countries of the caucasus are wedged among several super powers in the region or large powers in the region. russia's one of them, turkey's another, iran is another. let's turn to our group
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in philadelphia for a moment and ask about the caucasus' relationship among these other major powers in the region. >> the caucasus are a, a very rich, historic area of the world that brings together really a combination of east and west and also really a combination of religions, of muslim and christianity, and i think it's an area of a lot of political uncertainty and religious uncertainty that's likely to be a very volatile area in the future. >> turkey's also tried to keep azerbaijan, azerbaijan happy and armenia and azerbaijan had this land problem where, ah, karabakh was a, is now under armenian control, is an armenian enclave. and, ah, this keeps, will keep coming up, i think, because turkey does not, can not leave azerbaijan alone and it has to support azerbaijan. could, ah, think moretates about this problem. armenia doesn't require turkey to recognize, ah, what they call the genocide or, and turkey doesn't ask armenia anyway
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to change its policy in this manner. so, and the turkey-armenia border was open prior to the karabakh land problem in the '90s. so, i think is why the problems keeps, ah, where the roadblock is. >> the u.s. has more interests in azerbaijan because of the energy sources than armenia. but becae there's a much larger armenian population here in the u.s. you only hear about the armenia perspective and not the azerbaijan perspective. the comment that was made about karabakh, the conflict between this sort of aggressive behavior on the part of armenia vis-à-vis azerbaijan, nobody knows about that, but everybody knows about armenia's issues with turkey relative to the events that took place, you know, a long time ago. >> david, the united states has its own relationships with iran and with turkey that deal with the u.s. and those countries, but how do those countries' dealings with the caucasus affect their relationship with the united states?
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>> in the case of iran, for example, and azerbaijan, there are more ethnic azeris living in iran, almost three times as many as there are in azerbaijan itself. so, there's a big ethnic component there. um, with armenia and turkey, there have been efforts to, ah, bring the two countries together, the reconciliation process, which seems to have stalled. um, there's a long history there, almost a century ago with the tragic events that happened to armenians in turkey. um, georgia is also very important in connection with turkey and, and iran. um, turkey plays an important role on energy with the pipeline that starts in azerbaijan that goes through georgia, winds up going down through turkey. and this is important, because with iran and the u.s. position on iran, we're not going to tap into the energy resources of iran. so, this enhances the importance of azerbaijan in particular, but also the role that turkey plays as a transit country. >> charles, the relationship between iran, turkey and the united states as affected by the caucasus? >> well i think it's
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certainly the case that the, the armenian-turkish relationship is very much of interest to, to the united states, not only as david mentioned, because there are plenty of americans who have very strong family or historical ties to armenia and care very deeply about what happens to thacountry. but also, it's in turkey's interest, ah, to have a good relationship with, with one of its neighbors. currently that border is closed and has been closed for the better part of, a better part of two decades. both armenians and turks have a long way to go in understanding what happened during the first world war, the armenian genocide, tragedies that happened to muslims in that part of the world as well. ah, in, and it's, i think in turkey's interest to, to make those issues a part of its foreign policy and really to engage with them. so far, after some, some initial, ah, hopeful developments in that, in that area things have, things have really stalled. >> can turkey hold its relationship with armenia, in effect, hostage in, in dealing with the united states to kind of put pressure on the u.s., perhaps on other issues?
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>> well it's, every spring, the turkey-armenian issue, ah, comes, comes to the floor because of the commemoration of the armenian genocide. that happens every, every april, there are protests outside turkish embassies and consulates around the world, there are letters written to, to the u.s. congress. i think, unfortunately, this is now in a kind of annual cycle. ah, it looked like there was going to be a lot of bravery on the part of the current turkish government and on the part of the armenian government to move beyond the past and to forge a new kind of relationship between the two countries. unfortunately, i think that's now hostage to local politics in both places. >> and david, what about iran? could iran threaten u.s. interests in azerbaijan? i'm thinking but you may thinterest, of other things. could there be a problem there that even, that worsens our already bad relations with iran? >> one thing i think that can be said positively about the iranian regime is, it has not stirred up problems in the south caucasus nor in the north caucasus. this is something actually russia has, has valued greatly and why russia, i think,
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has a different perspective on iran than we do. um, i don't think it's in iran's interest to stir up problems in azerbaijan. iran has to be mindful of the large azeri population in its own territory, and i think that's a major break on any, ah, negative activity it could engage in. >> charles king, david kramer, thank you both for being with us on great decisions, and special thanks to our group in philadelphia. if you'd like to join a great decisions group in your area, visit we'll see you next week, i'm ralph begleiter. >> to order a dvd of this series, visit of this series, visit or call 1-800-playpbs. [instrumental music] >> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. great decisions is produced in association with the university of delaware. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by price waterhouse coopers llp,
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the aarp office of international affairs, and the european commission. >> my opinion did not change, because i feel that in the caucasus there's a lot of energy and oil there, and if the u.s. is not interested in it and there's a problem with security, like if azerbaijan and armenia have a conflict again like it did in the early '90s, it could really upset the global economy, which is already pretty bad right now. >> foreign affairs education is pretty critical because america is the beacon of hope, the epitome of democracy. i, as a naturalized american, recognize that. the rest of the world can't know more about us than we know about them. knowledge, awareness leads to understanding, knowledge, awareness leads to understanding, understanding leads to trust. closed captions by captionlink
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